UK TYRE LAW & TREAD DEPTH

Legal tyre tread depth and how to check it

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What is the legal minimum tyre tread depth in the UK

In the United Kingdom, the legal minimum tyre tread depth is 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre, around the entire circumference. This applies to cars, motorcycles, and light commercial vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of up to 3,500kg.

To check your tyre tread depth, you can use a tread depth gauge or a 20p coin:

1. **Using a Tread Depth Gauge:**
– Place the gauge into the tread groove and take a reading.
– If the reading is less than 1.6mm, your tyres are illegal and need to be replaced.

2. **Using a 20p Coin:**
– Insert the coin into the main tread grooves of your tyre.
– If the outer band of the coin is obscured when it’s inserted, your tread depth is above the legal limit.
– If the outer band is visible when the coin is inserted, your tyres may be illegal and should be checked by a professional.

It’s important to remember that the 1.6mm legal minimum is a safety standard. It’s recommended to replace your tyres well before they reach this limit for optimal performance and safety. Also, remember to check the tread depth at multiple points around each tyre, as wear can be uneven.

Testing your tread depth

Testing your tyre tread depth in the UK is a straightforward process that can be done using a few common tools or even everyday objects. The legal minimum tread depth across the central three-quarters of the tyre, around its entire circumference, is 1.6mm. Here are a few methods to test your tread depth:

1. **Tread Depth Gauge:** This is the most accurate method. You can buy a tread depth gauge from an automotive store. They’re inexpensive and easy to use. Insert the gauge into the tread grooves and take a reading. If the reading is less than 1.6mm, your tyres are illegal and should be replaced.

2. **20p Coin:** The outer band of the 20p coin is about 1.6mm wide. Insert the coin into the main tread grooves of your tyre. If the outer band is obscured when the coin is inserted, your tread depth is above the legal limit. If the outer band is visible when the coin is inserted, your tyres may be illegal and should be checked by a professional.

3. **Tread Wear Indicators:** Most modern tyres have tread wear indicators built into the tyre grooves. These are small rubber bars that run across the tyre tread. If the tread is level with these bars, your tyres need replacing.

4. **Visual Inspection:** While not as precise as the above methods, you can visually inspect your tyres for signs of wear. If the tread pattern is significantly worn down, or if you notice any cracks or bulges in the tyre sidewall, it’s time to replace your tyres.

Remember to check the tread depth at multiple points around each tyre, as wear can be uneven. It’s important to replace your tyres well before they reach the legal minimum for optimal performance and safety.

40% of UK drivers are not confident checking their tyre tread

New research has revealed that 40% of UK drivers can’t confidently check their tyre tread depth.

Over half of 18-34 year olds do not know how to check that their tread is within the legal limit, and over a third of 35-54 year olds also feel uncertain.

Checking your tread is easy to do at home yourself, and it could save you time and money. 

The simplest method is the 20p test. You’re looking for the tread to be above 1.6mm, otherwise it’s time to change your tyre. 

Take a 20p and place it upright into the main grooves of the tyre. If the outer band of the coin is obscured by the tyre, then the tread is within the legal limit. However if it is clearly visible, your tyres are likely to be illegal and will need replacing as soon as possible.

Failing to carry out regular checks on your tyres could put you at risk of a hefty fine of £2,500 per tyre and up to 3 penalty points if stopped by the police.

For more advice on how to check your tyre tread and other handy tips on regular tyre maintenance, contact your local Landsail dealer or check out Landsail Tyre Teacher Fuzz Townshend 

 
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Why is tyre tread depth important?

The minimum depth of tyre tread is 1.6mm. But what does that mean in real terms? Tyre tread, the little grooves that run along the circumference of your tyre, are basically what help your tyres (and your car) stick to the road.

But hold on a minute – Formula 1 car tyres have no tread, so it won’t really make much difference if I leave mine on a little too long, will it?

Wrong.

Most tyres, when purchased, have 8mm of tread, and as the miles are eaten up, that tread is slowly worn away. It is advised that tyres are changed when the tread reaches 3mm, because at this depth, the performance of the tyre is beginning to deteriorate quickly. After approximately 20,000 miles – if you have driven responsibly – the tread is down to 1.6mm, and at this point your tyres must be changed. But why?

It takes you longer to stop

With poor tread, your stopping distance is considerably increased. In a braking manoeuvre, your tyre relies on its tread to grip the road and stop as soon as possible. As tread depth decreases, stopping distance increases. In an independent study carried out by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the stopping distance increases by a whopping 44.6% when the tread is the minimum legal depth.

You’re more likely to aquaplane

Now, it’s true that we have been blessed with a ridiculously gorgeous summer this year – however, we live in Britain. It rains. And when it does, roads get wet and become far more hazardous. One risk that faces drivers is aquaplaning over the puddles which form on our roads. Aquaplaning occurs when the tyres are unable to displace water at a fast enough rate and so lose contact with the road, causing them to go out of control. A deeper tread is far more efficient at displacing this water and so reduces the likelihood of losing grip.

It’s illegal

As it’s unsafe to drive with tyre tread below that of the minimum depth, it’s also illegal. If you are stopped by the police and you are found to have a tyre tread below that of the legal limit, you can be slapped with a £2500 fine and penalty points. To put that into perspective, a full set of premium tyres for Britain’s most popular car, the Ford Fiesta, is less than £300. If the worst should happen, and your car is involved in a collision and an investigation finds that your tyre’s tread was too little, you may face prosecution. It really makes no sense not to change your tyres.

So if you think your tread is beginning to get a little on the low side, visit Arnold Clark for a free tyre safety check – and choose replacement tyres from a wide range of manufacturers.

 

When should you change your tyres?

There are several factors to consider when deciding when to change your tyres:

1. **Tread Depth:** As mentioned earlier, the legal minimum tread depth in the UK is 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre, around its entire circumference. However, it’s generally recommended to replace tyres when the tread depth reaches 3mm for better safety and performance.

2. **Age of the Tyre:** Tyres degrade over time, even if they have not been used much. The rubber can harden and become less effective. Many tyre manufacturers recommend replacing tyres every 6 to 10 years, regardless of tread depth.

3. **Visible Signs of Wear:** If you notice any cracks, bulges, or other signs of damage on your tyres, they should be replaced immediately.

4. **Uneven Wear:** Uneven wear on your tyres can be a sign of alignment or suspension issues. If you notice that one side of the tyre is significantly more worn than the other, have your car checked by a professional and consider replacing the tyres.

5. **Driving Conditions:** If you frequently drive in extreme conditions (e.g., very hot or very cold weather, rough terrain), your tyres may wear out more quickly and need to be replaced sooner.

6. **Mileage:** The number of miles you drive can also affect tyre wear. If you drive a lot, you may need to replace your tyres more frequently.

In summary, it’s best to replace your tyres when the tread depth reaches 3mm, or if you notice any signs of damage or uneven wear. Additionally, tyres should be replaced every 6 to 10 years, regardless of tread depth. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to consult with a qualified tyre professional.

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What causes tyre wear?

Tyre wear can be caused by several factors, both internal and external. Here are some common causes of tyre wear:

1. **Tread Wear Patterns:** The way your tyres wear can provide clues to the underlying cause. For example, if the inner or outer edges of the tyre are worn more than the center, it could be a sign of improper wheel alignment. If the center of the tyre is worn more than the edges, it could indicate over-inflation.

2. **Improper Inflation:** Under-inflated tyres can cause increased wear on the outer edges, while over-inflated tyres can cause increased wear on the center. It’s important to maintain the correct tyre pressure as specified by the vehicle manufacturer.

3. **Improper Wheel Alignment:** If your wheels are not aligned properly, it can cause uneven tyre wear. This can be caused by hitting a curb, driving on rough roads, or simply by normal wear and tear.

4. **Driving Habits:** Aggressive driving, frequent braking, and sharp turns can cause increased tyre wear.

5. **Road Conditions:** Rough roads, potholes, and debris can cause damage to your tyres.

6. **Tyre Age:** Tyres degrade over time, even if they are not used much. This can lead to cracking and other signs of wear.

7. **Environmental Factors:** Extreme temperatures, exposure to sunlight, and exposure to certain chemicals can all contribute to tyre wear.

8. **Improper Tyre Rotation:** Not rotating your tyres regularly can cause uneven wear.

To minimize tyre wear, it’s important to maintain proper tyre pressure, have your wheels aligned regularly, drive carefully, and rotate your tyres regularly. If you notice any signs of wear or damage, it’s important to have your tyres checked by a qualified professional.

Driving on tyres with tread below the legal limit can be incredibly dangerous, as well as illegal. It’s even worse driving with bald tyres where the tread has worn away altogether.

Hazards of driving with worn tyres include:

  • Less grip on wet roads.
  • Longer stopping distances.
  • A greater risk of aquaplaning.
  • Less traction on icy roads or snow.
  • More chance of punctures, which can lead to a sudden blowout.

If you change your tyres when the tread wears down, you’ll have better grip on the roads and less stopping distance.

Worn tyres or flat spots may also cause your steering wheel to shake or vibrate. 

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